The Good Expansion

A few weeks ago a copy of Ginkgopolis made its way into my boardgame collection, and I’ve been playing it quite a lot recently. The innovative area control fused with a draft-based tableau building makes Ginkgopolis a tight and smooth design. And there’s an expansion for the game as well.

I talked about expansions in the past, discussing how publishers nowadays are not afraid to incorporate redundant elements in the game, allowing for easier incorporation of new material, but also tipping their hand, risking making their fans thinking that they released a product that is somehow “incomplete”.

Back then I used Core Worlds as an example: a game with a set of symbols that became valid only with the excellent Galactic Orders expansion. I myself am also guilty of this practice, as I referred to Allies on the Mistfall cards, knowing that if and when I got to work on Heart of the Mists, I would not have to add lists of exceptions for cards from the base game.

However, as much as games such as our own Mistfall and Exodus: Proxima Centauri greatly and almost without a doubt benefit from expanding, games like Ginkgopolis might not. It’s a phenomenon that I was reminded of by Kuba Polkowski, half of the reviewing duo behind Board Game Girl, who is an avid Ginkgopolis fan, and a person with some trepidations when it comes to the slick structure of the game possibly suffering from adding any new elements.

Personally, I’ve not played many games that were somehow lessened by expansions, but I can’t say it has never happened to me. For some of the expansions, it was the sheer volume and weirdness of changes introduced that made the whole experience less enjoyable (Race for the Galaxy, I’m looking at you). For others, it was the tendency to dominate the game with their content, and changing perhaps too much (the case of Mocha and Baksheesh, which made us stop playing the otherwise excellent Istanbul for a time).

So, it would seem that some Eurogames can be prone to being made worse with expansions (especially if they are tightly knit and slim), and that thematic games are usually made better, or last longer, when content is added. It would also seem that making expansions modular is what can save the day, and since that has been my personal experience, we’ve decided to do exactly this when starting work on Simurgh: Call of the Dragonlord.

From my point of view, there are two ways to make an expansion a good one: simply add more of what was good in the base game, and make different elements interchangeable. However, even knowing that this is the case with Ginkgopolis: The Experts, I am still looking at a shrink-wrapped box, a bit unsure.

Do you ever feel the same way? And, on a somewhat unrelated note, do you feel that adding another player in the expansion is a bit of a cheap way of adding content?

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